Review: Phonak Audeo S Smart IX vs. Phonak Lyric2

Hey everyone,

Now that I’ve got your attention via my rather provocative topic title, let me get started.

I’m a very experienced hearing aid user who has been has been using hearing aids for about 10 years. I’m a very busy professional who has a busy life. My needs really test the capabilities of the hearing aids I’ve tested and worn. I’m an exec in the high tech market, I play guitar, I’m into teaching martial arts, I’ve got 4 kids…and the list goes on. After testing many hearing aids over the years, the ones I have liked the best are the Phonak Audeo S Smart IXs that I have been currently wearing for the last 2 years. IMHO, these are excellent aids (when setup properly) and probably the best on the market when it comes to speech in noisy environments like restaurants, etc. There Stereo Zoom feature of these hearing aids puts them in a class by themselves. If you do a search on this forum, you will find a bunch of detailed threads that I posted showcasing my first experiences with the Smart IX’s when they were first released with the new Spice platform.

So…a year ago, my audiologist asked me if I would like to try out the Lyrics for 30 days. He knows I am a very fussy user and I think he was interested in seeing what a very experienced hearing aid user would think of the Lyrics given all the marketing blab surrounding these new long term use hearing aids. I happily agreed and visited his office for an initial visit about a year ago. Turns out my ear canals were too small for the Lyric but he offered to call me back if and when the newer, smaller version of the Lyric was released (i.e. Lyric 2). Three weeks ago he called me to indicate that he had received the Lyric 2 at his office and I went in a couple of days later to try them out. The new Lyric 2 is about 20% smaller than the previous version and my ear canals luckily fell into the range of the new product. After examining my ears for the fitting, he found that I had some wax and dead skin buildup in my canals and after removing it, he asked me to wait another week for the ear canal to properly heal. I came back the following week and my ear was still red. Yesterday I went back again and he was finally able to fit me with the Lyric 2 hearing aids.

I know what many of your are thinking. What a waste of time. Lyric is analog. Lyric is kinda yucky in that it sits in your ear for long periods of time. Lyric is crazy expensive. Comparing Lyric to the Spice platform is just silly and dumb. Yup…I know all that. That being said…I was intrigued and I figured it would be interesting to me and helpful to other people to get a real, down to earth view of this breakthrough product.

So…I got fitted yesterday. Basically, the audiologist has a box of dummy Lyrics of all different sizes that are used to figure out the right size for you. The new Lyric 2 has a much wider range of sizes than Lyric 1 given its smaller size. The Audi first measured the depth of my ear canals with a small color coded probe and then tried out a couple of sizes of dummy aids until he got the right fit. The dummy Lyrics were inserted with a special tool that allows the audi to make sure the aids are inserted into the proper depth. Once the proper dummy aids are inserted, you are asked to practice removing the dummy aids with a special removal tool that can be used to take out the Lyrics if you have an issue. Once that was done, the audi swabbed out my ear canals with alcohol and then inserted the actual Lyric 2 aids into my ears.

It actually hurt a tiny bit when the hearing aids were pushed into position but once the insertion tool was removed, the pain stopped. You could still feel something was in your ear but after a few hours, I wasn’t aware that anything was in my left ear. The right ear hurt a bit but by the following morning, the pain was almost gone. Once the hear aids were inserted, the audi stuck a probe in both ears and after a quick beep, the hearing aids were programmed and turned on. Voila…ready to rock!!

So its now been 24 hours and I suspect that you are all waiting to see what I think. So here are my initial impressions. I will post more stuff as long as I keep these things in my ears.

From a purely physical perspective, the Lyric2s are really kinda cool. They go so deep in your canals that you can’t really see them or feel them even if you stick your little finger in your ear. They really are invisible…and I don’t have very big ear canals. Now that the pain is gone on the right side, you really don’t notice that they are there. You don’t bump them with your glasses. You can use your cell phone like a normal person. There is no feedback. You can use headphones or any other thing that goes on your ear with really no issues. They make you feel kinda normal again from a purely physical perspective. After wearing BTEs and mini BTEs for 10 years…this is really quite amazing. In other words, the concept is really quite good. You can still adjust the volume by using a small magnetic wand that is provided and this is quite easy to do. You can also turn off the hearing aids at night which is also useful. I tried sleeping with them on last night but after 10 years of sleeping in silence with no hearing aids on, I found that the sound of my wife tossing and turning along with my furnace turning on/off kinda kept waking me up…hehehe.

Now the more important points. How do they sound?

Despite what they say about occlusion and deep fitting aids, there is lots of occlusion. Maybe I’m just a fussy person and I’ve been spoiled by my open fit Smart IXs for the last couple of years. That being said…I don’t like the occlusion. Its annoying. The sound quality of the amplification is a real mixed bag. In general, they sound kinda dull compared to the Smart IXs. I’m not sure how to describe this other than to say the Smart IXs have a big sound across the entire frequency range. The highs are brilliant and the open fit allows natural base in through your ear canals. Unlike the Smart IXs, the Lyric doesn’t really amplify anything below 200 hz and because your ears are totally plugged by the aids, you don’t get any natural sound to supplement the amplification. This means that everything lacks base and sounds kinda thin. The other issue is that the Smart IXs provide all kinds of digital enhancing of the signal by changing the directionality of the mikes and by focusing on sounds using digital algorithms. Given that Lyric is analog, you don’t have this going on and everything sounds a bit muffled. it may be that I’ve just gotten used to the Smarts IXs and my brain needs time to adapt…not sure. At this point, my personal feeling is that the digital technologies change and adapt to the sound environment and this provides a higher level of clarity. Lyric being an analog device, doesn’t have these capabilities and you are just hearing the sound as it hits your ear with no enhancing, etc. Now that being said, for some reason, Music (i.e. radio, iPod, playing the guitar) sounds quite a bit better than the Smart IXs. I’m not sure why. Maybe this is just a programming issue with the Smart IXs that could be fixed with some modifications to the programming. That being said, I have a music program on the Smart IXs so I’m not sure why the Lyric 2 hearing aids sound better when I play the guitar. Go figure. The other interesting thing is that the Lyrics do give you a wonderful sense of directionality compared to conventional aids. You definitely know where things are when you hear a sound from behind.

So…physically Lyric 2 delivers as promised. Soundwise…I’m really not so sure. I don’t like the occlusion. The big test will be how they perform in a noisy restaurant…which I know the Smart IXs do quite well. If the Lyrics perform really poor in noise, I just may end up pulling them and ending the trial early. I really don’t see myself going back to the days of pretending I can hear when we are in a noisy place. Plus…my audi just updated my Smart IXs to the new Spice+ firmware version so I suspect that my favorite hearing aids just got better.

Anyways…I will keep posting my impressions and answering questions if people are interested. As always…I’m hoping my comments will be helpful to others who are looking for answers.

Regards,

Jordan.

Hi Jordank,

it was very interesting, thanks for it!
What’s about speech clarity? Often is said, that BTEs offer better speech understanding ability, than ITes do. What do you experience?

Interesting stuff Jordan, if the Phonak Audeo S Smart IXs were available in CIC, would you consider them? It seems you like the in-ear form factor, aside from the occlusion, but you prefer the technology of the digitals (except for music). What’s the deal with showering?

So here is some additional information…

I do really like the IIC format of the Lyric and other IIC products. Its kinda nice have the hearing aids deep inside my ear although I’ve never really cared if anyone can see my hearing aids. The funny thing is that my Audeo S Smart IXs are bright red and the only person who ever noticed I was wearing hearing aids was a nurse who inspected my hair after one of my kids came home from school with head lice…hehehe. Her response was “Wow…those hearing aids are tiny. I didn’t notice them from the front”. I think the thing that is nice about the CIC or IIC formats is that you can use cell phones and headphones without have to use all kinds of extra stuff like an iCom, etc. Also…they don’t suffer from wind noise and you get good directionality, etc. The obvious bad thing is the occlusion and its hard to go back to the occlusion once you have used an open fit RIC type of mini BTE hearing aid. One of you asked about showering and yes…you can shower with the Lyrics. They are so deep that they don’t get wet unless you let the water pour into your ear. As long as you keep your head upright you can shower with no issues.

After wearing the Lyric 2’s for a couple of days I have come to the conclusion that the sound quality is very average. It may just be that all the fancy features of the top of the line Audeo S Smart IXs really do help you hear better by focusing the mics while adding in noise reduction and other sound optimization features. Everything just sounded very muddled and the ability to alter the settings on Lyric are very limited. The only controls the audiologist seems to have is that they can add a pivot/hinge point on the graph and either turn up/down the right or left half of the frequency band. This is a far cry from a sophisticated digital aid with 20+ channels and multiple programs which can be customized exactly to your hearing loss. Maybe my loss profile was too far off for these aids and they are better suited to people with minor hearing loss…not sure.

I did finally wear the Lyrics to a meeting this morning and once there were 4-5 groups of people talking at the same time, my comprehension of any one particular conversation dropped to near zero. With the Smart IXs I would have flipped them into StereoZoom mode and hearing a particular conversation would have been just fine. I left the meeting very frustrated and feeling a bit goofy. I ended up going home shortly thereafter and I removed the Lyrics. I put my newly upgraded Smart IXs back in my ears and it was like night and day. Everything sound clean and crisp again. Low frequencies were back and I could hear all the extra house noises that were missing with the Lyrics. I’m going to a dinner party this evening and this will give me a chance to test the Smart IXs (post upgrading to Spice+) to see how they perform vs. the Lyrics…all within the same day.

So…sorry to disappoint but the Lyrics aren’t for me. They are probably a good choice for a first time user with minor hearing loss but I’m thinking a sophisticated user is probably far better off with an open fit BTE. That being said…I’m going to test the new Phonak Nano with the Virto Q chip in the next few months in an IIC format. My be nice to have both the Smart IXs in a mini BTE open fit format and the Nano IIC for those times that I want a deep fit option. We shall see…

JordanK

Hi Jordank: I got fitted for Lyric2 yesterday. I feel as if my ears were stuffed with cotton, especially the left ear, but the hearing is good. However, I am so shocked at the price that I’m not sure whether I heard (no pun intended) right, or got muddled from the shock, but I believe the cost was quoted at $4000.00 every two months? Is that the going price? I researched some websites but could not find one that talked about cost in detail. I am going to use these for a free trial of one month. I also need to discuss the cost again. I’m apalled! yet I feel that if I can hear I will need to pay no matter what. The Phonak hearing aides were never satisfying no matter how many times I went in for calibration. My hearing loss has become a real handicap that affects me psychologically and worse still because I am a psychotherapist and public speaker. I no longer go to restaurants because I can’t distinguish anything the person in front of me is saying. Same goes for cocktail parties. In Europe, by the way, it’s never a problem because everybody has been taught to simply speak rather than yell their way through a meal.
Last night at 2:00 am In deepest sleep I tried scratching my right ear and the pain was so horrible I felt as if I had punctured my eardrum! I got up to check if there was blood. I need to know how dangerous something like this can be. Thank you for any comment you may have, especially about the cost.

I think that price is the subscription price for the whole year. They are supposed to last 3-4 months before the batteries run out so you can expect them to be replaced 4-5 times per year. If you are in pain, go back to the audiologist and have them checked.

Jordank

hi JordanK. about the time you were buying your Smart IV i was also in the market for new HA’s. I found your description of the product informative and was grateful for the time you took to describe your experience with them. I trialed the IV’s as well and liked them but ended up buying the V as I didnt think the extra cost was justified. That might have been a huge mistake as I have been very disappointed with the V. I dont find the programs work at all and in fact are so bad that I never use them. Oddly I do find that music listening is quite enjoyable with the V.
So its with a lot of interest that I read your post about the Lyric. As you have pointed out there are a lot of advantages to ICC. I’m not surprised that there is an occlusion effect with the Lyric. From the reading I’ve done custom fitting the IIC is critical, not only to eliminate the occlusion effect but to also get the most gain from the HA. I actually have an appt with a Audiologist (new one) today to discuss my dissatisfaction with the V and to investigate the IIC. I purchase new aids about every 2-3 yrs and I’ve been wearing them for over 10 yrs. (i’m 57 this yr and very active). As my wife points out, I do all the research get excited about the new technology (hype!) and am always disappointed with the results. My hearing loss is moderate and I have real difficulty in noisy environments. What is really frustrating is that I also just miss a lot of day to day conversations and dialogue on TV. She is extremely patient and has pointed out that perhaps no HA can bring me back to perfect hearing which is what I strive for, and after all these years I maybe coming to the conclusion that it may simply be unattainable!

Hey…thanks for your kind words. I post notes here hoping that it is helpful to other people who are trying to cope with the same problem that I have. Glad my information was useful.

Couple of points I want to make. The Audeo Smarts are really amazing hearing aids. They are easily the best I have ever tried. Thing is…they have to be setup properly. I remember when the first version was released (pre Spice version). I trialed them for a few months and they were just not good. My audiologist is excellent but we couldn’t not get them to perform well in noisy environments. I returned them but ended up trialing them again when the new Spice version was released.

If you remember, Phonak released the Spice platform at the same time that they released a completely new version of their Target programming platform. This software was totally new with a completely different user interface. It also suffered from numerous software bugs. I think many audiologist were thrown off by the new platform and many people who got fitted with the new Spice hearing aids weren’t fitted properly. This resulted in a bunch of people thinking that the Spice hearing aids weren’t good…but the opposite was true. I know this because my audiologist is extremely good and invested quite a bit of time figuring out the new software and working directly with Phonak to come up with work arounds for the bugs, etc. I got a really good fitting and I was extremely satisfied with the new Spice platform.

I will make one additional important point. The thing that made the Spice platform so ground breaking for me was the StereoZoom feature. This feature is critical for very noisy environments (the worst case scenario for hearing aid users) and it works by doing two really cool things. First, the range of the microphones is narrowed so that they only pick up sound directly in front of you. Second, each hearing aid uses a wireless signal to cross broadcasts what is picked up from the microphones to the other hearing aid. This blocks out noise from the sides and behind and then makes sure that whatever is being said by the person in front of you is cross broadcasted to both hearing aids. With noise reduction added in, you end up with one of the best speech in noise programs that I have ever experience. BUT…you only get this feature with the top of the line Smart IXs. I don’t think StereoZoom is present in the less expensive versions of the Spice Platform.

So…maybe the bad experience you had with the Smarts was a combination of bad programming compounded with the fact that you didn’t go with the top of the line model and get StereoZoom. I know they are expensive and probably out of the range of many people who could benefit from this feature. Hopefully Phonak with eventually push this feature down to less expensive models soon. Maybe your audiologist will let you try the IXs and get Phonak to give some kind of credit for an upgrade. I will say that Phonak has released a much improved version of Target that hopefully solves many issues and the new Spice+ firmware upgrade makes the Spice platform even better. I have been wearing my Smart IXs with the Spice+ firmware upgrade for the last week and there is a huge difference between the Spice and Spice+ firmware. Everything sounds quite a bit crisper and I don’t think my hearing has ever been as good as it has been since the Spice+ upgrade was applied.

I will say the IIC hearing aids do intrigue me and I want to test the new Phonak Nano with Virto-Q. I think the top of the line Nano IIC has something called “Auto StereoZoom” on top of regular StereoZoom. This may be the thing that finally makes IIC or CIC hearing aids really good. If they can just put a big enough vent into the hearing aid to deal with some of the occlusion, this may be the perfect hearing aid for me.

Anyways…good luck!

JordanK

I’m waiting to receive my trial Phonak Virto Q(90)'s sometime next week. I’ve done much research on them and thought to inform you that the nano models (ones that use size 10 batteries) don’t have any wireless or binural processing features. So no SteroZoom , Zoom Contol and all the other bells and whistles. They only have basic features like Whistle-Block , Noise-Block , Sound-Recover , Wind-Block among others.

Phonak so far did not release the exact features Virto Q’s will have but they should be similar to the earlier Ambra Nano’s (which i trialed).

If you want all the features the RIC models have you need to choose the big ITE’s , half-shells or big 312 battery size CIC models.

Hope this clarifies things for you